The Beginner's Guide to Buying a Motobecane/Dawes/Mercier
The boring story:
Ah Motobecane, the somewhat infamous mail-order bikes that promise good component groups, a lifetime warranty, and the heritage of a classic road bike brand of the 80's- all for a very, very cheap price. Just about every cash-conscious newbie looking for a new bike brings it up. Among the biking community, there has been mixed feelings about the quality of these bikes, and how they stack up to a reasonably equivalent bike from a local bike store. Plus, you don't get sizing and repair help from the local store. I however, have tried a ton of my friend's bikes. 58cm is my size. I feel really uncomfortable on a 60cm, and a 56 is far too small.
Like most, beginning roadies, I began my search for a new bike at the most entry-level price I could get it. After crashing my first bike- an outdated Schwinn Traveler from my neighbor, I started looking at the typical choices: The omnipresent Trek 1000, Raleigh Grandsport, Specialized Allez Sport, Jamis Satellite, Giant OCR3, Fuji Finest and other bikes like these. Most of them are in the $700 range, with aluminum frames, and made in Taiwan. Unfortunately, I had roughly $200, plus whatever I could get my dad to help me with. He said he would pay about $75, so I first began looking used since there was no way I would be able to shell out $700. I had just destroyed my Traveler, so my parents weren't exactly biting at the teeth to buy me a new bike. Heck, neither was I. While I was cruising around the bikes stores, I inquired about used bikes, but neither of them carried anything.
The used bike market is horrible in my area. Just take a look at the classified section in the paper. After weeding out about 20 or 30 WalMart bikes, I found only two potential bikes: A Nishiki and a Raleigh, both going for about $200, and hey, the seller claimed "Like new!" I called him and got some REAL information. Seriously, these things were not new or even remotely close to being new. Both had Hi-10 steel (REALLY heavy), bottom of the barrel components (even in the late 70's), friction shifting and 10 speeds of raw fury. $200?! 200!? More like $20. MAX. I sometimes wonder what people think when they find grandpa's old bike rotting in the garage. "GEE! This must be worth at least $200! Heck, aside from the flat tires, dirt, grime, rust and water damage, this thing is practically new!"
Craigslist... the first thing I found was a beautiful red Trek going for $80! If only I was about a foot shorter... There was nothing in my size, or even remotely in my area on the Los Angeles site. It seemed that (besides the Trek) everybody thinks their ďbarely used!Ē K-Mart special is worth more than they paid for it.
I really don't like eBay, and I have never used it. I guess its because I figured that i'd always get ripped off or something. I'd looked at bikes before, but never looked into it, you know. I finally found something that caught my eye. A Motobecane Mirage. I had seen it before, but never really gave it a thought. At $245 + $35, it looked like a great deal. They had tons of options and colors available in my size, but it had downtube shifters, steel frame, and generic brakes. Do they even make these things anymore?? This wasn't really a big improvement on what I had before, but it was the best thing I could find. Still, I decided to keep looking. Everything else was too expensive, or too old.
By the way, I think that Motobecane, Dawes, and Mercier are all owned by the same company (Fuji possibly?). The bikes are listed by various eBay sellers for the same price, with the EXACT same options. It got even more hazy when I found out that some Fuji high-end bikes and fixed gear bikes are sold under the Motobecane name and share platforms. I checked out some threads on the bikes and found out a bunch from this website. I'm assuming that they bought the names so they could sell last-years-model bikes under them. As you expect, they are all built in Taiwan.
So I looked at the next level up. I found a Dawes lightning Sport (also known as the Motobecane Mirage Sport) from the same seller for exactly $300 + $35 shipping. This was a tad out of my range, but I figured I could nudge my dad a little past the limit line. It was exactly what I was looking for. STI shifters and Shimano Sora brakes this time, all on a steel frame. I didn't really care about the frame, since I rode a steel bike before and I liked the feel a lot. This seemed like the perfect bike. Just one catch: They were out of my size! I emailed the seller and found out that she wouldn't have any in stock for 3 months!! Forget that...I for sure was not going to wait 3 months.
I kept searching. The last bike I found was a Motobecane Mirage Pro on accident from a different seller. It cost $330 + $40 shipping this time around and they luckily had one 58cm size left. (Its also weird to know that they have more sizes than Giant) Its identical to the Mirage Sport, but had an aluminum frame. $370 was a lot of money though, and I was slowly creeping up to the price of a Trek 1000 from a bike store. Even on closeouts, they still cost around $540-$600 however, so I closed my eyes and ordered it after asking the seller a ton of questions. She was surprisingly helpful and answered all of my emails very quickly. Some of her answers were a little vague though. Eg. Q: How much does the bike weigh? A: Sora equipped bikes all weigh around 23 lbs. The other thing I didnít really want was a triple (for silly vanity reasons), but I rethought this since my usual route takes me over an insane climb on Santa Susanna road, so it probably would be nice to have one.
NOTE: Bikesdirect.com and their store Cycle Spectrum sells the same bike on their website and on eBay, but the sellers have them priced significantly lower, but with limited sizes, so you get what you find. Supposedly, the brand offers a ďLifetime WarrentyĒ but since I donít have any experience and havenít heard anyone else dealing with the company, this remains up in the air. My guess is that your better off fixing it yourself since you wonít get the service of the more mainstream companies like Trek and Cannondale for obvious reasons.
I ordered the bike really late in the night on July 12, and it came in 6 days on July 19 by UPS. The whole time I was biting at the teeth for it to come in and panicking whether it would be good or not.
So what does $375 get you? For this price you could buy 1 American Classic Wheel that you can use like a unicycle by standing on the axle! Obviously, not a lot of performance, but you do get some quality. After being classically trained on downtube shifters, the STI functions like a dream, but only if you tune it right.
Packaging: It all comes in one big box completely set up except for the front wheel, front brake, handlebars/stem, and seat tube. It does take a while to set up, and you will need to adjust and setup the front brakes yourself. My rear brake also needed to be tuned. If youíve never worked on bikes before, I do not recommend this product, unless you plan to pay someone else to assemble it for you. If you do have a basic knowledge of mechanics, its smooth sailing. Itís definitely not rocket science, but you do get some pretty worthless instructions, which donít remotely have anything to do with the bike.
Drivetrain: First off, as advertised, you get Shimano Sora components: Sora Flightdeck front and rear deraillers. Pretty basic stuff of course, but defiantly good. I canít tell what kind of cassette you get, but its probably SRAM or generic. You get a nice FSA triple crankset as well. They included some cheap pedals and straps, which Iím chucking anyway in favor of my clipless. An extra derallier hanger is included.
Brakes: Sora brakes with Sora brake pads. Youíll have to install the front one yourself, but they already have the cable ready.
Handlebars and Headset: AHEADSET headset, generic handlebars with Motobecane stamped in them, 2 sets of handlebar tape, Wings stem.
Frame: Good frame made by Kinesis with standard 7005 aluminum tubing. Itís got some weird way to arrange the cables by using a fixture where a downtube shifter is installed. (Check out the Fuji Ace) It works well though. The paint is actually very beautiful but is not a real blue. Itís more of a bluish purple, but is very nice looking. 2 water bottle braze-ons. Generic ďDuraforteĒ Chro-moly front fork. No carbon of course. The geometry feels very sporty and quick. The ride is a lot less uncomfortable than my steel road bike was due to the aluminum build, and it also feels less refined, but i'm definately not complaining because it's so much lighter! Plus, if you don't like the Motobecane name, the stickers peel right off!
Wheels: Hereís where you saved money. Alex RPD15F presta rims laced to a generic hub with a Motobecane logo on it. You also get some cheap unsealed quick release skewers. 36 spokes. The tires included are 700c x 23c Kenda Competition Kontenders rated for 125 PSI which cost about $20 each surprisingly.
Seat: Velo seat is very comfortable, even though I figured I would throw it away. Seat tube is not greased, and it can be dangerous for a total beginner to assemble.
PROS: Insanely low cost, very good specs for the money, surprisingly light, very comfortable. 8 sizes available helps fit. Shimano components.
CONS: First off, you have to assemble the thing yourself so you might not know to grease the seatpost or correctly set up the brakes. No instructions. Cheap wheelset. Correct sizing a total guess. Motobecane name.
Pictures coming soon...